This article is the transcript of a live ‘interview’ show done regularly by journalist Gregg Stebben and Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of the Russian Parliament to vote against Putin in the annexation of Crimea and now a Russian dissident and Ukraine supporter. Please excuse any transcript errors in this article.

Gregg Stebben and Ilya Ponomarev Interview

Gregg Stebben and Ilya Ponomarev Interview: Does Putin Have to Die?

Gregg: Hello,  Greg here with Ilya Ponomarev. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve talked, Ilya.  It’s great to see you again,

Ilya: Nice to find Nice here. Yes. We were so busy with the Congress and with my travel, so I’m, I’m really sorry that I missed several of our endeavors.

Gregg: Well, here we are. We’re back again at our usual time.

Gregg:  obviously, the first thing for us to talk about is the Congress, which was held from the 20th to the 23rd of February,  leading right up to the anniversary of the Russian invasion. Tell us about what happened there.

Ilya:  well,  the Congress went really well. We doubled in size,  which was really good.

Ilya:  And it was very professional. I think that the professional level of the documents that were discussed and prepared by Congress also increased. And they were very important ones. We passed in the final reading of the law on Freedom of Speech, which is the fundamental law obviously for future Russia.

Ilya: And we also passed in the final reading the law administrations, which basically sets the parameter of the future deification of Russia and cleansing of Russian elites,  from Bhutanese,  and from people who were making war crimes in Ukraine and who actually led the country to the situation,  which we see in Syria now.

Ilya:  and besides that,  we started discussing the transition plan, the roadmap for the changes in Russia, passed them in the first reading as a concept,  which defines how Russia would transition from the current authoritarian state to the future democracy. And,  we passed the very fundamental bill, which is the Bill of rights.

Ilya:  which is,  the foundation for the future Constitution. And we started discussing the future constitution. So,  I think that we are progressing quite well. The next Congress would be held somewhere in June this year. And hope that,  our numbers will grow once again.

Gregg: I’m very biased. Obviously, I was born and raised in the United States. I’m a citizen of the United States as you’re describing your work there, and having been there at the first Congress myself in Warsaw, every time I think about the Congress, what I am reminded of is the founding fathers of the United States…

Gregg: Doing similar work with, I would like to say, great outcome, as we know this will have a great outcome as well. I’d like to suggest. I’m saying this somewhat to suggest that the next Congress be held in Philadelphia, where the founding fathers of the US met, perhaps even in the same hall if it could be arranged.

Gregg:  you know, I’m always trying to connect the dots for people between the founding fathers of the US and the work they did. And the work you’re doing there, with the first Congress. I’m sorry, with the Congress of people’s deputies.

Ilya:  you know,  also, that’s a very pleasant comparison,  which is very close to my heart as well.

Ilya:  and,  I think it’s,  it should be accurate. History would tell. And that’s definitely for us, the example to follow. That’s exactly the example that we’re trying to recreate in the approaches in other constitutions. We are trying to take many of the examples from the history of the United States and the approaches that were there, and,  in the most fundamental thing, in the layout of the regions, in the federal structure of future Russia.

Ilya:  the example of the United States is exactly the one that we are for. So rights to the region, power to the regions,  all the key decisions to the regions, and only a very limited set of authority to the center. What is related to the national defense or national infrastructure, stuff like this…

Ilya: But,  as much as possible, go to the regions,  and many other, by the way, examples we were discussing. The layout of the future Parliament, by bicameral structure, also resembles the structure of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States. With the terms of the judicial system,  we are taking a lot…

Ilya: of positive examples from the states. We introduce the judges,  the elected judges. We’re introducing the elected sheriffs,  and,  and, and many things like this. So power to the people. It’s actually very funny. It was one of the most debated features of the current American system.

Ilya:  the Second Amendment,  you know, went into our new Constitution without any debate. It was unanimously supported by Congress, so we now have exactly the same thing in our constitution. And I do believe that it’s a great thing to do despite all the controversy that it creates in the states. I really think that you guys just have nothing to compare it with.

Ilya:  and I think it’s a positive thing, 

Gregg: you know that… I’m sorry, go ahead.

Ilya: Yeah, and then, then many other things,  because,  also things which are being discussed,  currently in the states about,   the same-sex marriages, for example, rights to abortion and whatever. We also took the approach that it has to be decided by the regions.

Ilya: It has to be the general framework. It has to be certain guarantees on the federal level. And these guarantees say that there should be no discrimination on the basis of gender. And the person has the right to decide about his own body. But at the same time, the exact policies need to be decided at the state level.

Ilya: So on the region’s level in Russia.

Gregg: One of the things I want to ask you about,  and I want to come back to some things you talked about relative to the Congress, but for now, I wanna make a transition from what you said a few minutes ago about you know, one of the most important laws,  that has been taken up by the Congress is the freedom of speech.

Gregg: You and I have talked about this before, how it is such a fundamental thing that must be captured in law in a rock-solid way. Is there a comparison to be drawn between the work you’re doing and the recognition you as a body see for freedom of speech I’m including in that freedom of media and what is happening in Georgia right now?

Ilya:  I wouldn’t say that there is a direct connection, although there is one. And this connection is what the protest in Georgia is all about is on the law. That they call themselves Farra,  as it is in the United States. The law and the foreign agents,  and obviously, they’re copied in the Russian approach, not the United States approach.

Ilya: They’re referring to the United States,  but they’re copied in the Russian approach in the United States. This law that was passed in the 1930s, if I’m not mistaken, in 1938, was a law which,  was to prevent Nazi Propaganda within the United States that was preventing fascist influence inside the country.

Ilya: And that was,  actually applied something like 10 times. And after the war, it was applied two times. And that was it,  because,  it was very precise. And many attempts later to apply the law. They all actually failed. In Russia. It’s one of the most widely applicable laws at the moment.

Ilya: And all Russian journalists and all Russian political activists, they know that if they are unloyal to Mr. Putin, they would be branded foreign agents, and it’s like yellow David Star,  in the concentration camps that you are supposed to wear with you all the time, no matter what you say. No matter, no matter whether you appear,  you,  will be branded at, you are the foreign agent and then Russian…

Ilya:  this,  combination for an agent, it’s more like a traitor, how, the way it sounds. So it’s even, it’s, it’s even worse than it is in the United States. And,  Georgian, obviously,  the current Georgian leadership they were preparing for the future elections,  which are to take place there in 2024.

Ilya: And they wanted to use the Russian example to clean up from all the opposition. And it’s very funny actually, you know, I was speaking yesterday on Georgia TV. About this because, obviously, I was one of the main people who were fighting against this law in Russia. And I was asking them a question how the Georgian leadership actually explains the introduction of this law is this law definitely targeted against somebody who is a threat to national security, who wants to influence the…

Ilya: Country illegally,  to steer it away. So when it was introduced in the United States, it was very clearly said this is the law against Nazis,  against Nazi Germany, and against their agents of influence. When it was introduced by Putin, it was also pretty clearly said it’s the law against,  the consolidated Western NATO, you know, and their proxies inside Russia.

Ilya: So it’s very clear because Buchan considered them. We, the threat for the national security, and that was openly said, they, these are the bad guys, you know, whom we want to protect ourselves from. For Georgians, the only real threat for Georgia at the moment is Russia, who actually invaded the territory,  and created the war, et cetera.

Ilya: But no, they were not saying as the government was not saying that it’s,  the law against,  Russia. They also were saying that it’s some illegal Western influence. This is somebody who would be neglecting our Orthodox church, Georgian Orthodox Church, our core family values, and, you know, stuff like this.

Ilya:  okay. You guys at Georgia, you officially said that you want to be a part of Nato and you want to be part of the European Union then,  whom you are protecting yourself from. And that’s obviously, this contradiction resulted in the mass process. And I’m happy to say that the protestors,  were…

Ilya: victorious, and the Parliament actually withdrew. They canceled this piece of legislation, quantum safety of something else. And that’s,  it’s very good news. That means that in Georgia, democracy is still alive.

Gregg: Does the size of those protests and the success of those protests?

Gregg: Is this meaningful and another piece of a puzzle that begins to chip away significantly at Mr. Putin’s position in Russia?

Ilya: Well, obviously, it’s a powerful example. It’s a powerful example. It’s very inspiring to many of the members of the Russian opposition. Everybody is discussing, this thing right now, but at the same time,  we need to say that.

Ilya:  also, when people come here, they say, ah, because Georgian authorities are weak because Georgian authorities did not use the firearms,  because,  Georgians are not that oppressive. Against their own people that it’s not such a long period of time past,  since this current government is in place.

Ilya: That’s why they did not manage to consolidate as much as, as it happened in Russia. So I am afraid that many of the representatives of the Russian opposition when the euphoria would pass, would find themselves another excuse why they shouldn’t act as Georgia did.

Gregg: Hmm. Oh, that’s not exactly what I was asking you, but it’s actually even more interesting. Because you’re really making the case for,  I’m gonna say, other than some select groups, excuse me…

Gregg: Like, for instance, yourself and your Congress, there’s a lot of people who are the opposition in voice but not in action. But is what’s happening in Georgia any kind of an actual sign of loss of power for Putin himself? Is it significant to him?

Ilya:  I think it’s, you know,  A little bit…

Ilya:  it definitely is, but I don’t think it would have a tremendous impact. I think that his attention is fully associated right now with Ukraine and everything that is happening around Ukraine.  I think that he would,  you know, by Putin’s psychology,  he would basically, I think, take it as,  he was taking actions of Mr. Unko in Ukraine,  before 2014.

Gregg: I was gonna draw the comparison.

Ilya: Yes. Yeah. That’s the loser guy, you know. He couldn’t control his own people. He should be tougher than that, you know?  Take lessons from me, you know, because,  it went unprepared. They thought it was so easy, but it was not so easy. They need to study more.

Ilya:  yeah. What a bunch of losers. I think that’s would be more or less what he would think about this.

Gregg: What an amazing thing. You’ve once again shown me how Putin takes a negative and turns it into a positive for himself. He’s a master of spin. I am wondering, do people inside Russia have an awareness of what’s been happening in Georgia?

Ilya: No. Yeah, definitely for Russians, it would be,   explained as just another orange Revolution type scenario that the influence of the West. Look how strong our leaders are and look,  how beautiful their leaders are.  it’s funny because, you know, there, there is such a, me,  in, in Russia, which when he was,  commenting on,  the yellow jackets protests in Paris,  he once dropped such a phrase, so you guys want like in Paris, or, and then it was like,  or you guys want, like in Kyiv,  and now everybody is saying, you guys want, like in Valencia, and people say, yes, we do want, like in Valencia

Gregg: Interesting.

Ilya: By the way, how in Paris it’s not so bad either.

Gregg: Is the introduction of this law in Georgia? Timed to be a deliberate distraction for Putin to take a tent, the world’s attention away from something related to Ukraine?

Ilya: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s rather a conspiracy.

Ilya: No, I don’t think so. I think it was very locally motivated by the Georgia authorities. I,  I don’t think they take as much advice from put. ,  these days,  because they have a lot of internal problems,  inside Georgia. It’s the power really is not as consolidated as it is in Russia.

Ilya: They have a stronger position,  with a split. And,  despite that, the Unofficial Georgian leader definitely is inclined to be pro-Russian, at least pro-Russian in style. Yes, but he cannot demonstrate it publicly because publicly still the overwhelming majority of Georgians are very much inclined to move toward the European Union and NATO.

Ilya: And he cannot just ignore it even in this situation with those processes.  so the Parliament voted. But the Georgian president, who was supported by Ish when she was elected,  obviously,  despite that she was from a former SAS team. But,  she kind of switched sides,  and was supported by Vehi, but she said,  she would get,  this,  this piece of law.

Ilya: As soon as it is passed. And the parliament said if, if she would veto it,  then the parliament would override the veto. But it was not clear whether they would be,  getting enough votes for this. But,  still, you know, it was so the elite is not united. And yes,  that’s the indication that it’s not,  guided, by the outsiders, their internal public.

Gregg: All right. I wanna bring you back to Congress. You mentioned the transition plan. What can you tell us about the transition plan?

Ilya: No, the transition plan consists basically of two major blocks, before and after the constitution would be passed and before the Constitution would be passed. So the transition plan, in general, covers two years.

Ilya: So the transition period is anticipated to be two years. The moment of change in power. And the moment when the new parliament is being created and this new parliament appoints the new government. So what is happening,  from the very beginning, obviously it’s the occupation of,  Ukraine,  downsizing the military,  abandoning of FSB, the modern incarnation of KGB,  the political prisoners.

Ilya:  making the lists of political internal agents who were reporting,  to KGB public,  registration. And that’s like the initial push. One of the ironic things it’s that, obviously there is a lot of physical ideological debate, and I’m known to be on the left-wing side of politics.

Ilya:  and I will say that the majority of Congress is on the right side. Mm-hmm.  and,  one of the most radical right-wingers,  said, ah, you know, looking at this transition period, I,  I see a left-wing Propaganda there.  I don’t know what he was referring to. White, so left. Was nonsense anyway. But the funny thing is that I am being the left wing.

Ilya: I introduced the amendment that we need to finally bury la  and vacate,  the main on the red and,  make the museum of,  mass repressions.  and just,  my left-wing take, that should take all the periods of time from the Russian Empire, from the Soviet Union to Putin.  Russia, because political oppression was all the time.

Ilya: So,  let us make the Museum of Political Oppression of all time, and that would be in the very centre of Moscow,  which would be very simple. That’s one of the amendments that actually got there, and that’s now a part of the decision. But, but,  seriously speaking, probably the key thing.

Ilya: During the first year is the municipal reform. We want to start from the,  municipal elections.  so again, to give power to the people, to locals, to the local communities,  and to make them feel this,  power. So get them this taste,  which is extremely important because then it could be harder to take it out, you know?

Ilya: Yes. By whatever government would be in place.  the real.  And the real minor associated with this,  with this power.  then,  it’s the passing of the new Constitution. And this new constitution is also like a bottom of,  trust on behalf of the regions. So which of the regions want to stay and which of the regions want to go?

Gregg: And when you say the passing of the constitution, You don’t mean just by the Congress, but by the people themselves?

Ilya: No, by the people, obviously. On the public. And before that, it should be preceded by a crowdsourcing exercise. So we want people to be,  involved, to be engaged in actually drafting the construction.

Ilya: But at the end of the day, one of the essential parts of the Constitution is,  this,  federal relationship within the country. And, and that means that,  all the regions they are to take a cultural decision. They need to debate throughout the year whether they want to stay or whether they want to go.

Ilya: And those regions which are voting against the constitution, that means they’re becoming independent.  and,  no thanks. No oppression. You know, it’s legitimate people’s decision whether they want to stay within such a country or where they want to split away. I do not expect many of the regions to go away, frankly speaking, but,  that may happen with,  with several, and we should respect this,  people’s,   decision.

Ilya:  and then the,  second year after the Constitution is passed, according to the new Constitution is the formation of the political parties,   with a federal political campaign, the federal elections,  and through the elections. The new Parliament is to be formed and the new Parliament is to appoint the new government.

Ilya: And the Prime Minister would be the head of the states.  most likely,  the position of the president would be abolished. So we, we still, this debate is ahead of us, but based on the current mood,  at the Congress, I think that the majority would suggest the people of Russia abolish the position of President altogether.

Gregg: Is part of the abolishment of the position of president? Sort of a cleansing of the past?

Ilya: Yeah, there’s a cleansing of the past. That’s from the very beginning. It’s this illustration law. No, I mean, That would start happening from the very first day. Mm-hmm. And, our take is that this administration is a kind of national compromise so that there is no mass suppression, so people are not going to jail.

Ilya: We are only sending, it to the Newberg trial. Those who were involved. in the military crimes and, but maybe several hundred, you know, maybe a thousand. But yes, not, not, not, not, not more than that.  but,  people who were involved in, in this vision, they, there were millions.  and we need,  to make sure that they are no longer part of the political life.

Ilya:  so they have limitations as a citizen. They have no limitations in terms of making business, you know, your life, you know, grow up kids,  you know, they have three people. They, they can travel, you know, they can other places if they want, but,  they,  are restricted in several activities. They are restricted in their rights to participate in political life, and they are also restricted in their rights to participate in public life.

Ilya:  yes, there was, there were,   people of culture who were campaigning for the war and for mass killings of Ukrainians. There were teachers who were falsifying the elections. So those teachers are not supposed to teach anymore. Those actors are not supposed to act anymore. Those directors are not supposed to shoot their movies anymore.

Ilya: It’s very similar to what happened after World War II in Germany, and unfortunately, several of the views of geniuses like Le Style, for example, was a genius film director, but she was banned from making any more movies because she was campaigning for Hitler and was actually,  doing her best,  to create a positive image of that horrible regime.

Ilya: And that was the punishment, which I think is the capital punishment for a person of culture is,  to stop,  publicly.

Gregg: I want to ask you about two more things before I move on though. I do wanna make the point that almost everything we’ve just talked about in this discussion of the transition is in your book, of course,

Gregg: Does Putin have to die? How Russia becomes a Democracy after losing Ukraine. So that’s a great resource. You know, that really shows in writing that this has been a long time coming and it’s evolving now literally as we speak, and that makes it very exciting to watch. Sure. It’s quite exhilarating for you who are participating.

Gregg: I have to confess, when I ask you about the transition plan, I was thinking of the transition plan between today and the end of Putin, not the transition plan from the end of Putin to the end of two years. Is there anything you wanna say about, you know, you’ve written a book called does Putin Have to Die?

Gregg:  is there anything you wanna say between the period from today to the day he’s no longer in power?

Ilya:. Right, right now it’s, it’s a way simpler answer. Well, it’s,  for the transition from modern-day Russia to democracy. For today it is just two basic recipes. You know, we need to fight.

Ilya: And,  to fight with arms. And that’s what our guys are doing on the front lines in Ukraine. Yes. And partisans inside Russia. And the second thing to do is to create a political alternative. And that’s what Congress is doing. So these two things are, are basically the only two pillars on which to build.

Ilya: And that’s what we need to know.

Gregg: All right. The last thing I want to ask you about is a story in the Washington Post today. Do I have the headline here?  I don’t have the headline, but you are mentioned in this story about Ukrainian Covert operations. It centers around some alleged revelations about the Nord Stream.

Gregg: I don’t know what happened. You know, there are people who are suggesting one thing or another, but the story then talks about…Right. But my real question for you is why shouldn’t Ukraine be involved in covert operations, They’ve been invaded.

Ilya: Absolutely. I don’t see the point. I think that we should be moved.

Ilya:  we should make attacks on the territory of Russia. Just the only thing that no civilians should do. All others. Yes. Other actions are legitimate if we are fighting against the means of war, about the sources of finances for the war, and if we are fighting against the people of war, the propaganda guys, and people with arms or unarmed, but still complaining for the war.

Ilya: It is all legitimate targets and,  again, the congress. And act on resistance movement which it put a very clear framework of what should and should not be done. And, again, this framework is extremely simple. We shouldn’t do something that would hurt civilians. That’s the end of the story.

Ilya:  everything else that would stop the war. That’s legitimate.

Gregg: All right, anything else you want to add before I let you go today?

Ilya: No, I think that we’ve covered it all. Follow the congress, read the book, For those,  who prefer it in Russia, I have a video version in Russian, which has been published on my personal YouTube channel, which is very easy to find anything

Ilya:  and I hope that we’ll leave next week or now without any.

Gregg: I look forward to it. It’s great to see you again. We look forward to hearing about continued progress and positive motion, positive movement in the world,  both for Ukraine and for Russia, frankly, a Democratic Russia. So,  with that, I’ll let you go.

Gregg: Thank you for joining me this morning, Ilya.

Ilya: Thanks to everyone for watching.